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Global forum addresses solutions to prevent premature deaths

Note for the media

The first Global Forum of the Noncommunicable Disease Network (NCDnet) marks the first time WHO has convened key stakeholder groups to address the large-scale and increasing global health and development burden posed by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). More than 100 people representing all stakeholder groups and geographic regions, including HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein of Jordan, and HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium, Duchess of Brabant, and high ranking policy makers and officials are meeting to address the NCD gap in the development agenda and the mobilization of support.

Noncommunicable diseases account for 60% of global deaths

Noncommunicable diseases, including heart disease and strokes, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, account for 60% of all global deaths. This represents 35 million deaths worldwide out of 58.7 million of which the majority occur in low- and middle-income countries (28.1 million). In developing countries alone, an estimated 8 million NCD deaths per year are premature (below 60 years old) and could be potentially prevented. WHO forecasts that between 2006 and 2015, deaths from noncommunicable diseases will increase worldwide by 17%, with the greatest increase projected for the African region (24%) followed by the Eastern Mediterranean region (23%).

"Diseases once associated with abundance are now heavily concentrated in poor and disadvantaged groups. Developing countries have the greatest vulnerability and the least resilience," said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. "Many developing countries are where affluent countries were some decades ago. As we know, many of these countries have mounted successful campaigns against heart disease and cancers. The sharing of these experiences is another compelling reason for intersectoral collaboration through an initiative such as NCDnet."

Network to focus on prevention and control

NCDnet is a voluntary collaborative network comprised of Member States, donors, philanthropic foundations, UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector. It aims to increase focus on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries through collective advocacy, increase resource availability and promote effective stakeholder global and regional action with the aim to strengthen national capacity.

Proven solutions now exist to prevent premature deaths from preventable noncommunicable diseases by implementing interventions to reduce tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol.

It is also key to strengthen health systems to enable them to respond more efficiently to the health needs of people. NCDs impose a heavy burden on people living in low- and middle-income countries. The cost of health care and treatment can push people below the poverty line very quickly.

"We have affordable and workable solutions for all countries available today to start to halt the trend," said Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Assistant Director-General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "Low- and middle-income countries are asking for our urgent support. We also know that changing people's life-style habits is a long-term process but this is all the more reason why these should be addressed now".

"Participants will address the NCD gap in the health and development agenda, the limited aid and expertise available and will accelerate the implementation of the NCD Action Plan in developing countries," said Dr Alwan.

NCDs pose a significant economic and financial risk

Julian Schweitzer, Acting Vice President of the World Bank, stressed the economic impact of NCDs at both the macroeconomic and household levels in developing countries. "NCDs are the most significant cause of illness and death among working-age populations. About three-quarters of the NCD disability burden in low- and middle-income countries occurs among those aged between 15 and 69 years."

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said "In terms of global macroeconomic impact, our analysis shows that noncommunicable diseases pose a significant economic and financial risk both to advanced and developing economies. The World Economic Forum is committed to ensuring that key partners engage in a multi-stakeholder approach to address this challenge. Our annual meeting in Davos in January demonstrated strong commitment from global leaders for immediate and collaborative action."

"Earmarking a 2% tax on tobacco and alcohol products over the past few years has reaped real dividends," said Dr Supreda Adulyanon, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. "In 2008, for example, this led to 80 million USD which have gone directly to health promotion programmes in Thailand."

The NCDnet Global Forum follows the recent meeting of Member States convened by CARICOM (Caribbean Community of States) in New York on 5 February at which delegates announced their intention to introduce a United Nations General Assembly resolution that would encourage UN agencies to work together to prevent and control NCDs. The CARICOM meeting also echoed WHO's recommendations for an all-society response as the NCD health problem has wide-reaching socioeconomic ramifications.

For more information contact:

Clare Courtney
Communications Officer
Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health
Telephone: +41 22 791 45 81
Mobile: +41 79 724 78 15
E-mail: courtneyc@who.int

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